Talking Point

Blind Hammer looks at the history of aged and injured West Ham Signings from Arsenal

The signing of Olivier Giroud to West Ham appears to be becoming an ever more likely prospect. Arsenal’s apparent willingness to offload this 30 year old striker for £20 million has caused some prickles to arise on my neck. I have had discussions with Arsenal supporters who cannot wait to receive the transfer money and see Giroud off. Phrases like paying for the Taxi are often heard. I can’t help feeling I have been here before. The signing of John Harston is the only transfer I can remember from Arsenal during my life that I have welcomed and which has helped develop the club. Tellingly Hartson was only 22 and injury free when he arrived at Upton Park for a then record transfer fee. This is not the normal state of affairs. Players tend to arrive either at the end of their careers or with unsustainable injury records.

We have a dismal list of Arsenal cast off who have drifted across from North to East London in the twilight of their careers. Arsenal has consistently trumped us in achieving unwarranted transfer value. In none of them would Arsenal ever have regretted their decision to cash in at West Ham’s expense, sending their players to the local “retirement home”.

A few examples.

John Radford

John Radford was a centre forward who was at times prolific for Arsenal. . He actually made his debut against West Ham in 1964. He also became Arsenal’s youngest ever hat-trick scorer when he bagged 3 against Wolves in 1965 when only 17 years old.

There followed a distinguished Arsenal career with Radford leading the line, scoring 149 goals in 481 games.

He moved in 1976 to West Ham for the then not inconsiderable transfer fee of £80,000,
In contrast to his form at Arsenal Radford proved that he was no longer up to the task of being a centre forward for West Ham. Despite his record at Arsenal he never managed to score a single goal, and after 28 appearances we cut our losses by releasing him to second division Blackburn Rovers.

Ian Wright

Ian Wright had a famous and glittering successful Arsenal career. He scored 185 goals for Arsenal in 279 starts. He had an impressive ratio of a goal average of more than 1 in every 2 games.

He scored his final goal for arsenal against West Ham in a League cup Quarter Final in January 1998.

However Wright’s later career at Arsenal was increasingly dominated by injury and his failure to force his way back into the team. Wenger decided to offload Wright to West Ham in 1998 for £500,000.

Wright was never in the Radford league of West Ham calamity but whether his signing represented value for the £500,000 is certainly questionable. This was not a small transfer then. Wright only played 22 times for the Hammers, representing poor return for the investment. It reminded me of the acceptance of another faded genius, Jimmy Greaves a generation earlier. Both players briefly excited before the reality of their age and physical limitations set in.

Against that Wright did score a respectable 9 goals in his 22 appearances. He was clearly in the wind down retirement phase of his career. In the end he offered nothing to West Ham’s squad development. It was one of those series of ill-advised speculative investments into aged players, which would eventually drain the club and make them vulnerable to relegation.

Davor Suker

Talking of ill-advised speculative investments into aged players, which would eventually drain the club and make them vulnerable to relegation, we cannot forget to mention Davor Suker.

Suker’s wages at West Ham were reported to be enormous, allegedly equivalent to all the income of the then East Stand for a season. Suker was already a fading force at Arsenal before joining West Ham, appearing only 22 times but scoring 8 goals. A performance strikingly similar to Wright’s during his time at West Ham. However this modest performance at Arsenal seemed Stella when compared to Suker’s return at West Ham. With us he managed only 11 games and contributed only 2 goals. This was in the days before Blind Accessibility support at West Ham and after I had lost my sight so I never saw Suker in the Flesh. I hope the fans in the East Stand appreciated the 2 goals he did score given what they had paid for them.

Freddie Ljungberg

Ljungberg was signed by Arsenal in 1998 for £3 million. He was an influential and successful player for Arsenal. He starred particularly in Arsenal’s 2001-2002 double winning side.
However towards the end of his Arsenal career he became increasingly plagued by injury. Arsenal started to look to off load him. He signed for West Ham in 2007, again for £3 million. . West Ham rapidly realised that they had signed an injury prone player who could not perform at the highest level, a fact already obvious to Arsenal. Rumours emerged that West Ham were desperate to try and withdraw from their expensive contract with Ljungberg. Although this was initially denied, Ljungberg eventually agreed to tear up his 4 year contract after only one year for a payoff reported to be £6 million. He must rate as one of our most expensive players ever when considered against the game time provided.

Stewart Robson

Stewart Robson shared and odd symmetry with John Radford’s in that he made his Arsenal debut against West Ham as a 17 year old teenager. In Robson’s case this was in 1981. Robson showed glittering promise for Arsenal and in 1984 he won their Player of the Year Award, whilst only 19. Robson advanced into the England team and seemed a player for a generation. Equally adept in either midfield or defence he was a bit like a reincarnated Billy Bonds with his spirit, skill, and tenacity.

By 1985 though Robson’s physical fragilities, particularly in relation to groin strains and hamstring injuries were obvious. In 1986 George Graham looked to offload him.

In 1987 West Ham paid Arsenal £700,000 for Robson. Arsenal probably could not believe their luck.
Robson’s talents were obvious but so were his physical limitations. He did manage to become West Ham’s Player of the Year for 1988, the one standout season relatively free of injury but the abiding memory of Robson’s stay at West Ham was his continuing injury problems, particularly to his pelvis. He played only 8 times between 1989 and 1991.
Lyall later confessed that West ham signed him off the treatment table at Arsenal and he was never really fit for playing at the top level for West Ham. In effect the club gambled on his fitness, a gamble that ultimately failed and re-enforced Arsenal’s assessment of the player.

So over the years we have been stung pretty royally in our transfer dealings with Arsenal. I cannot recall a single transfer where we have eventually achieved value to the extent Arsenal would have regretted their decision to sell. Too often over the years they have seen us coming. We have to ask ourselves the most relevant question – what on earth would be the motive for Arsenal to transfer quality out of their squad to London rivals West Ham? We cannot compete economically with Arsenal so each transfer will generally be a gamble that our assessment of a player is more accurate than theirs. Too often over the years they have won this gamble at our expense. So I am most definitely on my guard.

COYI

David Griffith